The year-long email petition calling for tougher penalties including loss of licence for drivers illegally using hand-held mobiles has failed.
The petition hosted on the Prime Minister's Number 10.gov.uk site was signed by 3,658 people and though disappointingly low, by no means insignificant.
Despite this, the government has responded by saying it has no plans to alter the penalty for driving while using a hand-held mobile phone.
Allan Ramsay of RoadPeace who at 62 is a successful LVRC competitor, instigated the petition and is bitterly disappointed. He has vowed to fight on. In a way the petition closed at the wrong time - on the eve of a General Election! Because new administrations generally start everything from scratch!
But there's a double irony here, too, which just adds insult to injury. Because only recently, the Transport Road Research Lab's latest research findings confirmed what they, the government and police, already knew, that using hands-free phones while driving is just as dangerous as hand held, and should be made illegal to use as well. In fact, TRRL said that years ago.
But no one in Government took any notice then, going only with the hand-held ban and a penalty which deters no one. And they are taking no notice now. Even though over 10 million drivers a day are breaking the law!
Ramsay makes the following points:
- The government have totally disregarded the logic provided by the Transport Research Laboratory i.e. the reaction time of a texting driver is slowed by 35%, whereas the reaction time of a driver at the drink driver limit is only slowed by 12%.
- Accordingly the penalty should be on a par with that for drink driving.
- In a letter to Ramsay, the Department for Transport wrote: "It (penalty for mobile phone use) is already on a par with speeding offences and that the Department believes that it is the appropriate level though we will consider that as part of finalising the forthcoming road safety strategy later this year."
But Ramsay points out that whereas many speeding offences are unintentional i.e. momentary lapses of concentration, using a hand held mobile phone is completely intentional and as such is a total disregard for the law, a total disregard for the safety of vulnerable road users.
- The DfT letter goes on: "You may also be interested to know that where there has been a crash, prosecutors and courts now have formal guidance which means that the use of mobile phones by drivers is to be taken as an aggravating factor when considering charges to be brought and sentencing where a driver has been found guilty".
- To which Ramsay says: "How satisfying would that be for the cyclist having to spend the rest of his life in a wheel chair or worse?"
- He cites the case of Labour Peer. Lord Ahmed: who was clearly using his phone just moments before a fatal collision but because it couldn't be proved he was actually using it at the moment of impact he was given lesser sentence.
Any distraction element that would surely have followed using the phone appears to have been totally disregarded, says Ramsay, who says:
- To leave the problem of using hand mobile phones whilst driving, to the point of death or serious injury is not only a waste of life, but also a waste of police time, court time, hospital time and tax payers money and makes no sense whatsoever!
- For the so called Spring period last year, cycling casualties rose by 19% - 820 cyclists killed or seriously injured.
- The likes of the CTC and the AA suggested that this was most likely down to the influx of inexperienced cyclists taking to the road. Nothing to do with the use of hand mobile phones and the cheaper and more fashionable Twitter and Facebook options of texting rather than talking!
Ramsay makes the point that reaction times are slowed significantly more when texting, compared to driving under the influence. "If irresponsible drivers can never fear losing their lives as many cyclists often do, only fair then that they should fear losing their driving licence."
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Keith Bingham joined the Cycling Weekly team in the summer of 1971, and retired in 2011. During his time, he covered numerous Tours de France, Milk Races and everything in-between. He was well known for his long-running 'Bikewatch' column, and played a pivotal role in fighting for the future of once at-threat cycling venues such as Hog Hill and Herne Hill Velodrome.
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